Updated August 21, 2018
A world cruise -- with its inimitable mix of sustained luxury and R&R, and promise of seeing the world on one seamless, unpack-just-once sailing -- sounds positively intriguing. Adding to the appeal is that most of these lengthy voyages are scheduled in the dead of winter, tempting cruisers with the means of being whisked away to more temperate, faraway lands. Of course, not everybody has unlimited time or money to spare for these extraordinary sailings, which range from three to six months in duration, with average starting rates ranging from $20K to $50K (and considerably more for top-tier suites).
Happily, there's a workaround that can get you just a taste of the world cruise experience: Most cruise lines break down their world voyages into shorter "segments," which get you onboard for briefer week to monthlong (or longer) legs of the full round-the-world voyage. So, for example, if you don't have those 100-odd days to spare for a complete world voyage running round trip from Fort Lauderdale, you could instead hop aboard a two-weeklong journey from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco, or a three-weeklong segment from San Francisco to Sydney… and so on and so on, for the duration of that particular world cruise.
Here, we outline all that you need to know about hitching a shorter ride on these extensive world voyages, so that you can determine if a world cruise segment is the right kind of sailing for you.
What are the benefits of doing a world cruise segment?
The biggest lure for world cruise segments is the itineraries, which tend to get well beyond the regular, well-trodden cruise line circuits to string together more far-flung destinations in regions that are rarely paired together by cruises -- and that would be a logistical (and significantly more costly) challenge to replicate by land and air travel alone. With combos like the Caribbean and Africa, or Australia and Asia, cruisers can sample wonderfully diverse cultures and experiences in one easy trip.
Another major reason to sign up for a world cruise segment is to get a sampling of what the big-ticket world cruise experience is like at a fraction of the cost -- or time commitment. World cruise segment fares, typically starting at around $2,000 to $5,000 per person, are a comparative bargain to the entire world voyage fares, and afford a good way of assessing whether you're cut out for the long-haul world voyage experience before perhaps ultimately taking the plunge on such a sizable investment of time and money.
What are the drawbacks of doing a world cruise segment?
On the other hand, there are some considerations that might steer you away from trying a world cruise segment. For one, the "full" world cruisers onboard get first picks for cabins, leaving latecomers with the leftovers to choose from. Worse still, sometimes segment cabins are only offered as unassigned "guarantees," meaning that while you can choose your general cabin category, you'll be at the mercy of the cruise line to designate your specific stateroom assignment.
As segment cruisers, you'll also likely miss out on some of the included-in-the-rates perks granted to full world cruisers, which vary from line to line, but might include airfare, special shore excursions, gratuities, pre-cruise hotel stays or exclusive onboard events like cocktail parties.
While the exotic itineraries of segment cruises can be a huge draw, do be sure to examine voyage details closely before signing up, taking special note of how many sea days will be factored in. Due to the nature of these world voyages, which include far-reaching repositionings of the ship from one region to the next over long ocean crossings, some legs might be especially heavy on consecutive sea days. If you're happy to while away several back-to-back days enjoying the ship's amenities, this won't be a problem. But if you're a cruiser that thrives on new ports and feels slightly claustrophobic when limited to the confines of a ship, then this type of itinerary likely won't be the best fit for you.
Another factor to consider is the likelihood of needing an open-jaw plane ticket, which can be costly and inconvenient. While world cruisers can conceivably circumnavigate the globe without booking a single flight, segment cruisers will need to book a flight to their port of embarkation, and back home again from the port in which they ultimately disembark the ship.
Which cruise lines offer world cruise segments?
The vast majority of cruise lines that offer world cruises also sell those same sailings in segments. These include newcomers like Azamara, which is offering its first world cruise in 2018, as well as Costa, which just started marketing its world cruises to American travelers.
Before booking, be sure to consider the size of the ship to ensure an optimized at-sea experience that's best suited to your personal travel tastes. For smaller ships, which offer a more intimate onboard environment, personalized service and access to smaller ports that the big ships just can't get to, look to Azamara, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Fred. Olsen, Holland America, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn or Silversea. For larger ships that come chockablock with dining, entertainment and activity options (as well as better stabilizers to help navigate rougher seas), book on Costa, Cunard or P&O. Note that Princess can fall into either category, depending on the particular ship that they're utilizing.
When whittling down your choices further still, consider, too, the anticipated onboard atmosphere, since each line puts forth its own niche travel experience: some of these considerations might be the cruise line clientele, ship amenities and expected level of luxury.
Where can I sail on a world cruise segment?
The possibilities for world cruise segment itineraries are truly as vast as the world is wide, given that these epic, extended circumnavigations (or at least partially planet-circling) voyages string together port calls at dozens of destinations around the globe. The great appeal of doing a segment is that you're likely to cover more ground -- touching on more destinations and cultures -- on one of these wide-reaching one-way runs than you would on traditionally scheduled sailings that are confined to just one region. Plus, since world cruise segments are typically longer than your customary weeklong sailings, itineraries are likely to factor in a mix of both big-name port favorites and more far-flung exotic locales; this is especially true on small-ship world cruises, which have access to smaller, more obscure ports.
Some world cruises focus more intensively on the Northern or Southern Hemisphere; others flit between north and south. A typical world cruise will get you a taste of the U.S., some Latin America (with a Panama Canal crossing), the Caribbean, Europe, Australia/New Zealand, the South Pacific, Asia and the Middle East (with the Suez Canal). Others venture to Africa and South America, too. With just two to three weeks onboard, for example, you might make way from Singapore to Dubai, Miami to Rio or Sydney to Hong Kong.
According to John Bell, the marketing director at world cruise-focused agency Cruise Specialists, the early segments of world voyages that depart from the U.S. are most popular with their clients. Several cruise lines noted that their Asian segments tend to sell especially well, with a special interest in spots like Hong Kong, Singapore and India.
Keep in mind that many of these world voyages do indeed embark or disembark at close-to-home ports in the U.S. (at ports like Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Fort Lauderdale), which offers a certain level of convenience and might save you a little on flights. Otherwise, note that you will have to book multi-leg open-jaw plane tickets that get you from home to the point of embarkation, and from the subsequent port of disembarkation back home once again.
Many world cruise segment travelers choose embarkation/disembarkation ports that they'd like to explore more in-depth on land either before or after their sailing. Another option is to book two or more segments back to back, for a lengthier, but more comprehensive cruise experience that's still less of a time and financial commitment than the full world voyage.
When are world cruise segments offered?
The vast majority of full world cruises are programmed to coincide with Northern Hemisphere winter, with post-holiday departures typically scheduled for early January, and return dates in the spring, in April or May (though a handful of lengthier itineraries, like on Seabourn or Oceania, return in June or even early July). There are some exceptions, however: For instance, Azamara's inaugural world voyage will run between March and June in 2018; Princess has a sailing embarking in June and running through September in 2018; and Fred. Olsen has one scheduled from November 2018 through February 2019. Any world cruise segments would fall within the larger time frame of the full world cruise; you could therefore choose to join a segment at the start, middle or end of the voyage, depending on your specific itinerary interests.
How long are world cruise segments?
World cruise segments, while much shorter than full world cruises, can still be quite lengthy, with many segments averaging between 11 nights and a month or more in duration. However, it's not uncommon to find shorter segments that are around a week or so, while on the opposite side of the coin, some others can run upward of two months.
How much do world cruise segments cost?
It all depends on the length of the voyage, the type of cabin or suite you book and the quality of the cruise line, but a range of starting rates for world cruise segments average between $2,000 and $5,000 per person – just a sliver of the full world cruise voyage rates, which can easily run 10 times as much. However, the price of segment cruises can vary far beyond that -- bargain hunters willing to travel in an inside cabin, for instance, can usually find fares for under $1,000 on a line like Cunard. On the other side of things, cruisers looking to book an entry-rate spot on an all-inclusive luxury line that features plenty of "extras" thrown in (like on Regent Seven Seas or Silversea) are unlikely to do so for less than $7,000 or $8,000 -- and be prepared to pay considerably more than that for anything beyond a bottom-of-the-rung suite.
Are there any onboard social implications for world segment cruisers?
On an average world cruise, about 30 to 50 percent of the passengers onboard are on for the long haul of the full voyage; the rest are there as segment cruisers. Bell noted that those full world cruiser numbers tend to skew higher on shorter world voyages, explaining, "You will also see a higher percentage of full world cruise passengers on shorter world cruises, which are approximately 100 days in length compared to the longer itineraries like Silversea (121 days), Regent (138 days) and Oceania (180 days)." For example, on a segment cruise we did aboard the 684-passenger Oceania Insignia's lengthy 180-day world voyage, 176 passengers were dedicated full world cruisers.
Oceania, like many lines, organizes a handful of exclusive shore-side events, cocktail parties, coffee socials and dinners just for their full world cruisers. But the line is careful not to create an atmosphere of exclusion for their segment cruisers. "We try not to make them feel lesser," explained Insignia's General Manager, Victor Conceicao, pointing out that apart from the handful of special events, there are no real differences in the onboard experience for their passengers. In fact, the line fully encourages their full world cruisers to mingle with the newly arrived segment cruisers at events like the captain's Champagne welcome reception and farewell show, which are organized for each individual segment.
Where you might notice a difference between the two groups is in the demographics. While full world cruisers tend to be wealthy retirees ages 60 and up, shorter segments invite travelers of different means, ages and professional standings to join in on the fun. The common ground will be that in both groups, you are sure to travel in the company of some interesting, well-traveled individuals. In fact, it's highly common for lasting friendships to be forged aboard world cruises, with so many passengers onboard for an extended period of time. While cliques can inevitably form among the full world cruisers, and every voyage experience is bound to be different, the general atmosphere between all onboard cruisers on our Insignia voyage seemed to be largely convivial.
Australians Peter and Charlotte England, for instance, experienced their first world cruise segment on that same 2017 Insignia world voyage, sailing a 28-night jaunt from Rome to Montreal. They ultimately didn't feel left out in any way from the onboard experience as compared to their full world cruiser counterparts, nor did they notice any segregation in terms of onboard socializing between the two groups. "We have interacted with both easily," explained Ms. England.
Tori and Bill Wickland, of California, who were on the same sailing, but as full world cruisers, felt, too, that they had befriended both around-the-world and segment cruisers quite easily due to shared interests and experiences. "Our fellow guests aboard Insignia have proven to be one of the best aspects of cruising," Ms. Wickland reflected. "We now have good friends within the around-the-world group after traveling for almost six months together, as well as with guests who only were aboard for short segments." In fact, the Wicklands preferred the all-inclusive onboard events to those offered just to around-the-world passengers. "The best events aboard have been those involving everyone," Wickland explained.